American dies in Egypt protests as country begins days of unrest over Morsi’s rule

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

An American citizen and at least three other people died Friday in demonstrations in Egypt that ushered in what was expected to be days of civil conflict over the rule of President Mohammed Morsi.

At least another 65 people were injured, most of them by birdshot in Alexandria, in turmoil that included crowds burning photographs of the U.S. ambassador and calling for the return of military rule. In perhaps the biggest irony of all, protesters brandished images of disgraced former President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, the very place where protesters gathered nearly two and a half years ago to demand Mubarak’s ouster.

Across the country, crowds set fire to at least four offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. At times, local news stations showed as many as nine screens of protests, both in support of and opposition to Morsi, the nation’s first democratically elected leader, whose first anniversary in office is to be marked by still more demonstrations this weekend.

By midnight, with no sign of a letup in the chaos, the U.S. Embassy announced that embassy personnel and their dependents could voluntarily leave the country.

Police officials in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, confirmed that an American had been killed in a melee with protesters, but the identification they provided was incomplete and local news reports gave various versions of the victim’s name.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged about 2:30 a.m. Saturday Cairo time that an American had died.

“We can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed in Alexandria, Egypt,” Ventrell said. “We are providing appropriate consular assistance from our embassy in Cairo and our Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. We do not have further information to provide at this time."

Gen. Amin Ezz al Din, the head of security in Alexandria, told McClatchy that the American, who he described as a 21-year-old male, was fatally stabbed around 3:30 p.m. as he was filming clashes “with a small camera: between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters. Din said the American was swept up in the fight and stabbed in the chest “with some sort of machete.” Protesters dragged the victim to an ambulance, Din said, where paramedics declared him dead.

“Those who killed him and others are suspected thugs,” Din told McClatchy.

U.S. officials at first would not confirm the death. Reached by phone, Marc J. Sievers, the deputy chief of mission in Cairo, said questions about a possible dead American at 10 p.m. were “really inappropriate.”

“We have a press office for that,” he said, before hanging up.

About an hour later, the embassy tweeted: “We are seeking to confirm report of American death in Alexandria. Thank you for concern.”

The events underscored how nuanced the political situation in Egypt has become, one year after Morsi took office.

The burning of photos of U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson underscored the rising criticism that the United States faces here.

Morsi’s government has accused the United States of meddling, prosecuting 16 Americans earlier this year for working for pro-democracy organizations in the country. Now anti-Morsi forces claim Patterson has sided with the Morsi government, citing comments she made that called on Morsi opponents to seek a political solution to the country’s conflicts, rather than mount more street protests.

“Some say that street action will produce better results than elections,” she said. “To be honest, my government and I are deeply skeptical.”

Perhaps the most incredible sight, however, was the appearance in Tahrir Square of protesters carrying photos of Mubarak, nearly two and a half years after Tahrir was the rallying place for protesters demanding Mubarak’s ouster.

With such uncertainty about what should replace Morsi, opponents who had once opposed both military rule and Mubarak appeared to be mired in the contradiction of change, no matter the cost. At the Ministry of Defense, for example, they burned a large handmade Israeli flag and called for Egypt’s army to take control again, even as the armed forces have enjoyed good relations with Israel.

The protesters said only the military could bring stability and fulfill the dreams of the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. Forgotten, apparently, was that during the year a military council governed before Morsi came to power in a democratic election, there were press restrictions, demands for elections and charges of military brutality.

On Friday, protesters carried military officers on their shoulders and resurrected the chants of the 2011 uprising. “The people and the army are one hand,” they screamed over and over again.

“The army is stronger than the Brotherhood,” said factory worker Asharf Berri, 40, referring to the once secretive Muslim Brotherhood, the formerly outlawed organization through which Morsi rose to prominence. “And if the army doesn’t take over, Morsi won’t leave.”

“We need the military to rule for a year and half or so until we can have elections,” Berri said.

What if Morsi wins again?

“Impossible!” shouted Faraj el Alfy, 65, of Cairo.

Who could replace Morsi? Neither Berri nor Alfy could say. “The new always has something good to offer,” Alfy explained.

Tawfik Okasha, an Egyptian TV commentator who is often compared to Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, has been a vocal supporter of a military takeover. Outside the Ministry of Defense, protesters chanted his praises and said he was under attack by the Morsi government. Some even suggested Okasha could lead the nation.

Still, not everyone was a Morsi detractors.

At a pro-Morsi rally in the Cairo district of Nasr City, the strength of the Brotherhood’s grassroots organization was clear.

Women donned crisp white sunhats that featured a depiction of Morsi. The men, even as they said they did not want a fight, were prepared for battle, unwrapping newly purchased wrestling headgear and elbow and knee pads. Many carried clubs – chair legs, tree branches, two-by-fours – in case of clashes. A large banner depicting the deaths of four purported supporters in the past few days hung over the stage where, one after another, religious leaders spoke on behalf of Morsi.

“Islam, Islam, we will defend you with our souls and blood,” was among the chants.

But the most common was the one word that summed up their message: “Legitimacy.”

For them, Morsi is duly elected and must be given the time to resolve Egypt’s many problems. They reject the idea of a military takeover, or of forcing Morsi from power.

“We had elections. If you don’t like Morsi, vote in three years,” said Ibrahim el Shikh, 33, a computer science engineer who was among the thousands at the rally. Morsi’s opponents “have personal interests,” he said. “They want the chair,” a reference to power.

And has Morsi been a good president so far?

“I will give you my opinion of him after four years,” he said.

Fahmy and Ismail are McClatchy special correspondents. Email: nyoussef@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @nancyayoussef

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
In this Wednesday April 16, 2014 photo,  Charlotte van den Berg poses for a portrait outside the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, rear, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Charlotte van den Berg was a 20-year-old college student working part-time in Amsterdam’s city archives when she and other interns came across a shocking find: letters from Jewish Holocaust survivors complaining that the city was forcing them to pay back taxes and late payment fines on property seized after they were deported to Nazi death camps. Van den Berg waged a lonely fight against Amsterdam’s modern bureaucracy to have the travesty publicly recognized. Now, largely due to her efforts, Amsterdam officials are considering compensating Holocaust survivors for the taxes and possibly other obligations, including gas bills, they were forced to pay for homes that were occupied by Nazis or collaborators while the rightful owners were in hiding or awaiting death in the camps.

    Student fought bureaucrats for Holocaust justice

    Charlotte van den Berg was a 20-year-old college student working part-time in Amsterdam's city archives when she and other interns came across a shocking find: letters from Jewish Holocaust survivors complaining that the city was forcing them to pay back taxes and late payment fines on property seized after they were deported to Nazi death camps.

  •  
South Korean rescue members search passengers believed to have been trapped in the sunken ferry Sewol near the buoys which were installed to mark the area in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 19, 2014. The captain of the sunken South Korean ferry was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need, as investigators looked into whether his evacuation order came too late to save lives. Two crew members were also arrested, a prosecutor said.

    Prosecutor says mate steering waters for 1st time

    A prosecutor says that the third mate steering a South Korean ferry at the time of a major accident was navigating those waters for the first time.

  •  
FILE - In this Sunday, May 18, 2003 file photo, mountaineers pass through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall on their way to Mount Everest near Everest Base camp, Nepal. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak.

    Search resumes for bodies in Everest avalanche

    Rescuers were digging through piles of snow and ice Saturday for four Sherpa guides buried on Mount Everest when an avalanche swept down the slopes and killed 12 other Nepalese guides in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category